Janet Himmelman swept back her hair, turned away from the computer screen and set her spectacles on her desk; this was the part of her job that she hated the most. She looked the nervous young man in his eyes and spoke as kindly as she could.
“I’m sorry, Charles, but you simply do not qualify and you cannot be admitted to the clinic,” she declared. The young man gasped, rocked back and forth in his chair and began to clench and unclench his fists: they often reacted like that at first.
“B-b-but doctor! I am a libertarian! I am!” he insisted. “All of my friends are libertarians and I can even improve. There must be some mistake!”
“I shared your file with my colleagues and we all agree. There is no chance of misdiagnosis,” the physician explained softly. “The numbers don’t lie; neither on your genome scan nor the psychometric tests, and neither in your written responses nor the clinical interviews. There is no place for you here, either in residence or as an out-patient. I am sorry, Charles, I really am,” she concluded in almost a whisper.
The young man choked back a sob. “Maybe I could get a second opinion,” he murmured.
“Of course you can,” soothed the doctor. “But we ran your data past clinicians in Mecosta and Dallas, and at the new Mayo facility and they all said the same thing. Charles, you need to face the medical facts about you and your condition. You are not a libertarian. You are a conservative, Charles, and you need to come to grips with it.”
Her would-be patient looked as if she had run a dagger through his heart. His lips silently mouthed the single word “no.”
Getting the subject over the initial bad news was always the hardest part, she knew, for she had helped to pioneer the therapy. Once she could move a patient on to analysing the data, then getting him to accept the diagnosis was always easier.
“Nationwide,” she began, “almost four in five cases generate false positives and you are no different. Even just among your age-group and gender, millions of Americans misdiagnose themselves as suffering from libertarianism when, in fact, they are just plain old conservatives, as healthy as mules.”
“Most Americans are conservative whether they know it or not,” she continued, “but corrupt opportunists intentionally mislabel themselves as conservatives, including Wilsonian meddlers and moon-rabbits, Mussolini fascists, neo-imperialists, big-government junkies, hot-gospellers for any Progressive agenda, ideological goo-goos and anyone longing for someone else’s money. They pollute the conservative brand, and so, many Americans mistakenly define themselves as libertarians to avoid the bad smell.”
“But I am a libertarian! I hate the state!” blurted the young man. “I despise it for all its evil works! I hate its cost and its intrusion! I loathe the bureaucratic nannying and the meddling with private communities here and around the world! I hate them telling me what to do!”
Dr. Himmelman folded her hands on her desk. “I wish that Dr. D’Angelo were here, because she noted in your interviews the same words that you are using now; specifically ‘evil’ and ‘communities.’ You are a conservative. Otherwise you would have opposed the state from rarefied ideological principles.”
“But my libertarian friends talk the same as me,” the handsome young man objected.
“And most of your friends are probably conservatives too, Charles,” she suggested softly. “Twenty years back, Russell Kirk identified that objections to a behemoth and hectoring state are what libertarians and conservatives hold in common. It is all that they share, indeed. That is why we get so many false-positives and people misdiagnosing themselves. Most Americans are conservatives, Charles, and that includes those who think that they are libertarians or even self-identified leftists for that matter.”
She watched the sense of shock roll across the face of the handsome youth. “But I love Ron Paul,” he insisted in an undertone.
“Many real conservatives do,” observed Dr. Himmelman. “Doctor Paul is an obstetrician who never performed an abortion. He is a devout Christian. He believes in financial prudence, non-interventionism at home and abroad, community and personal autonomy, and constitutionalism so strict that it lets states make the tough decisions. Don’t you think that he is a conservative? Had he no faith that Americans would, as conservatives, make the wise decisions, would he sacrifice his country to appetite and license?”
Charles folded his arms and glared at the ceiling. “He is a libertarian and I am too!” he muttered obstinately. The physician was pleased, for denial was part of the recovery process.
“We know from your interviews that you visit the main libertarian websites,” she explained. “Would you say that you are a Rothbardian, a Paleo-Austrian, a Catoite, a Kochite, a Randroid Objectivist in either the classical stamp or the Neoconservative interventionist model, or another kind entirely?”
“No,” he mumbled. “I don’t belong to any faction.” The clinician smiled.
“Charles,” she explained, “your tests show conclusively that your FI, your Fratricidal Index, scores in the bottom quintile. That is always a tell-tale sign of a natural conservative. Now, do you believe that market-based communication trumps government decision-making and central planning?”
“Sure. Hayek said that,” the young man replied with self-assurance.
“Hayek was a conservative just like most of us,” she answered. “But he called himself a libertarian and his was a classic case of mistaken self-diagnosis. Now, if Hayek was correct and information flow usually triumphs, Charles, how can you still believe that millions of American doctors and nurses, researchers and pharmacists are all secretly in league to peddle counter-productive medicines apart from, say, one jackass chiropractor in rural Idaho who has all the answers? You read that junk on their websites every week.” The would-be patient stared at his shoes.
“Charles,” Dr. Himmelman asked but more forcefully, “do you believe that the government spikes our drinking water with fluoride because it turns us into obedient robots?”
“Of course not,” answered the young man. “Fluoride has virtually eliminated juvenile dental cavities since the 1960s. My mother is a dentist and has seen it first-hand.”
“And of course, as a self-described libertarian, you must believe that soft-drinks make men sterile, that wheat-flour and corn-sugar kill consumers, and that the only healthy diet comes from exclusively eating pre-historic nuts and berries and homemade jerky because some retired mailman in Kentucky says so,” She stared at him forcefully.
“Of course not,” the young man objected. “All that is crazy.”
“Conservative!” the physician declared, triumphantly pointing a finger into the air, and the young man voiced no objection.
“Charles,” she added kindly, “your tests demonstrate that you are resistant to ideology. Your ideo-immune system is strong and there is no sign of the genetic imbalances linked to true libertarianism. Otherwise you would be signed on to every half-baked health scam and goofy conspiracy theory going. You are a normal young man.” He stared blankly.
“There are also unscientific anecdotal reasons for why you are diagnosed as a conservative,” the physician continued. “One is that you don’t read instructions. Here at The Libertarian Clinic we do not help patients to become better libertarians, which is why you applied here. We cure them, or more accurately speaking, we help them to cure themselves so that they can become better adjusted, wiser and happier individuals.”
“Really?” asked the young man incredulously. Like any conservative, he had glossed over the printed information of course.
“Yes. If you were a libertarian ideologue, Charles, you would have read everything carefully and contrasted our information against ironclad hyper-rational principles. As I said, your contra-ideological antibodies are normal and that shows up in your blood-work. Whether intentionally or not, you are like Emerson and suspect that ‘excessive consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.’” He had nothing to say.
“Do you and your friends debate whether the navy should be contracted out to the private sector for reasons of ideological consistency?” she asked.
“No, we mostly drink beer,” Charles replied. Dr. Himmelman snapped her fingers
“Please open your bag,” she instructed and the young man hesitated. He finally agreed, and the physician rose to her feet and peered into it over her desk. She shook her head; a textbook case like this was simply crying out to be written up for a technical journal. Charles was another victim of peer-pressure who had developed the psychosomatic symptoms of libertarianism, while struggling against cognitive dissonance.
“It’s just stuff that I’m carrying for a friend,” he lied and Dr. Himmelman kept shaking her head as she looked at his books.
“The Roots of American Order? Birzer on Christopher Dawson? And you tell me that you are a libertarian?” she asked softly. The kindly physician feared that the young man would burst into tears.
“I only read it a little,” he confessed, wringing his hands. She began to scribble on a pad, tore off a sheet of paper and handed it to Charles.
“I am deviating from procedure here,” she explained as the young man read her prescription.
“Can I get this filled at my local pharmacy?” he asked.
“No,” she answered, “but any public library should be able to help.”
“You are healthy but transition justifies treatment,” she explained. “First I want to run you on a course of heavy anti-depressants. Alternated nightly before bedtime, I want you to take 500 mg of either Chesterton or Tolkien; that’s about five pages per dose. During or just after breakfast you need to take one-thousand milligrams of Kirk which you can alternate with Eliot and Burke if you wish; that will boost your ideo-immune system to Olympic levels. Then, on Sundays you need to spend at least an hour reading C. S. Lewis, Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas, either before or after Mass, to balance your moral electrolytes.”
The young man nodded, taking in her every word.
“But even modern medicine cannot work on its own,” she continued. “So on weekends I want at least 1500 metres of slow-walking work-outs through any art museum, and 45 minutes of classical music. That will get you over any lingering Utilitarian or libertarian notions that everyone’s tastes are equal, and it will strengthen your innate conservative understanding of content, quality and cultural hierarchy. Clear enough?”
Charles clutched the prescription to his chest, blurting heartfelt thanks.
“You’ll be fine but check back with me in a month,” she added, scribbling a note into her diary to remind her.
He had barely left her office when the receptionist rang on the intercom.
“Hi! Janet, it’s me,” chirped Maryanne in the waiting room. “Old Missus Frobisher is here with her husband. He insists that he is an Objectivist, and he won’t eat his peas until he is convinced that they are consistent with first principles.”
“Send them in,” sighed the physician and she wondered, if only for a moment, whether she should re-read the Hippocratic Oath and look for loopholes.
Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.